Thursday, April 16, 2009

Motivation of a character

Most of the writers today have heard versions of the GMC theory. This simply deals with the Goals of the characters, the Motivations of the characters and the conflict that is preventing them from achieving those goals. This is a great basis to build characters from, however, many authors are really missing a key element, and needless to say, are creating really weak characters. I refer to the motivations of the characters.

Simply put, the motivations of the characters are "why they do what they do." The problem I see many authors having is the abuse of serious backstory to create a motivation for the characters. For example: a character is immersed in his work and this is because his drunken and abusive father made him give up his baseball career and girlfriends and work in the family business while chained to the machinery.

Sound extreme? Sure is but you would be surprised how many stories come across my desk that have characters such as this.

When you have a character such as this in your story, they have so much baggage it literally weighs the story down and slows everything to a grinding halt. Yes, the word baggage her means just that. The character simply has too much to worry about so even thinking about the conflict in the story will become too much.

I tell many writers to look around them at the people they find interesting. My bet is the interest does not stem from this excessive baggage. They are interesting for simple reasons. It is possible to have someone have a goal for something very simple. For example, that same business guy can immerse himself in his work because he found success and really likes the feeling of work. Maybe he simply has been determined his whole life to the best. No abuse, just personality.

This works and keeps the story clean.

Now, go out and dump all that baggage with your characters. Besides, all of that baggage makes up space for you to add depth to your story later.



  1. Thanks for the tip, Scott. Lately you've been ranting--probably justified, lol!--but I appreciate the helpful hints more.

  2. I agree. Sometimes the problems of the characters can get in the way of the story.
    Good advice!

  3. So less backstory all around? More like a television drama? More like Cormac McCarthy, even.
    Personally I enjoyed the heck out of the rants. Much fun.
    Question of the day- has anyone found a way to deal with the near-mandatory demand that one now have a "public presence" in addition to being a writer?
    The well-meaning suggestions such as, "become an expert, start teaching classes, give lectures, on your subject, for fiction (!) all sound just swell, especially after work, kids, aging parents, PTA, and all else has been dealt with, why sure, off to give lectures.
    Who pays the bills of these dream writers as they run like gerbils from thing to thing?
    And pitiful as it is, I'd be the first to grab a fiction ms. from a writer with a recognizable name, BEFORE the book was ever printed. Up goes the bar. No end in sight.
    How long does it take to become a public personality? In addition to writing? Were the great English novelists public personalities?
    Has anyone solved this problem?
    And as more and more books go on line, looking at the very low charges to read them on Kindle, will there be any money left in writing, for anyone but the blockbuster authors? When romances sell for ".99," will any agent want a piece of the deal?
    I see an almighty shakeout rumbling over the horizon.

  4. I have a hard time applying such advice to my middle grade WIP. These characters don't have a long life span in which to create problems to solve. They've barely begun their lives.

    Yet I'm told to give them more conflicts, to beef up their problems. I mean, really, how much can a 10 year old face? Usually just mean fellow students and homework problems, right? Oh, and maybe an abusive parent or two.